Unknown Fields Nomadic Studio Summer 2014
CARGO SHIP EXPEDITION
July 22 – August 5th
The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These distant landscapes – the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine – are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. Each year we navigate a different global supply chain and seek to map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures. Past journeys have traversed the mines of Madagascar and the Australian outback, the faded nuclear futures of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the black military technologies and conspiracy theorists of the Nevada desert and Burning Man Festival.
This year we travel East to ride the waves of massive container ships and trace the shadows of the world’s desires along supply chains and cargo routes, to explore the dispersed choreographies and atomised geographies that global sea trade brings into being. These are the contours of our distributed city, stretched around the earth from the hole in the ground to the high street shelf. Consignments of the precious and industrial, raw and refined, mechanical and alive, drift across infrastructural seas on vast Panamax, Aframax and Suezmax from cavernous factory floors via huge ports like Shanghai, Singapore and Busan and through the bottleneck excavations of Panama and Suez. Our journey to Asia will take us behind the scenes of our modern world, cutting a cross section through the secret lives of products, where intense pockets of activity in wildly unexpected places supply cultures far removed with the fulfilment of their every need and desire.
Joining us on our journey will be international collaborators and specialists from the worlds of design, technology, science, art and fiction, and together we will form a travelling circus of research visits, field reportage, rolling discussions and impromptu tutorials that will be chronicled in a publication and film.
Eligibility- The Unknown Fields summer expedition is open to all architects, designers, artists, writers and interested parties, students or professionals. A portfolio or CV is not required, only the online application form and payment.
Fees- All inclusive Expedition fee: £1600, which includes flights from London, all internal transport, accommodation, entrance fees, meetings, consultants, workshops and all other group costs (excludes meals). Please note: If you are based in Asia you can meet Unknown Fields on location and we can arrange a reduced fee that excludes return flights from London.
In the run up to the country’s first election since the coup Unknown Fields headed to Madagascar to catalogue the push and pull of economy and ecology and to trace the shadows of the world’s desires across the landscapes of this treasured island. Travelling with journalists and investigative photographers we uncovered some of the complex value negotiations that play out across this unique island and developed a series of narrative portraits told through statistics, data, predictions, projections, measurements and offsets. Text and images appear courtesy of TANK Magazine where the work was first published. Text by Sohrab Golsorkhi-Ainslie, Photography by Chris Littlewood, Footage by Toby Smith, Graphic by Unknown Fields.
Mirana stands on a pile of displaced earth in Manalobe, close to the epicentre of the relatively recent gemstone boom in Ilakaka. The ground beneath her feet conceals sapphire deposits, laid down along an ancient subterranean riverbed left over from when the island was still attached to the Indian subcontinent. One cubic metre of dirt and gravel can contain as much as a gram of sapphire – five carats’ worth – which could fetch more than $5000 internationally. Mirana is paid $2 per day to work the mine.
Brick maker – 18°56’14.84″S 47°29’54.25″E
Tsinjo stands in a rice paddy on the outskirts of the capital, Antananarivo. Once the crop is harvested each year he uses the mud to make bricks, forcing it into moulds by hand; the bricks are left in the sun to dry before being fired in stacks. The bricks drying in the sun behind him are worth 70 Ariary ($0.03). The rice field sinks lower and lower each year, until it is useless for both rice and bricks and becomes waste ground, bereft of value.
Zebu Herder – 21°50’1.70″S 46°56’9.58″E
Mahefa is a zebu herdsman from Ihosy who walked for a week with his 50 zebu to get to the Ambalavao zebu market, the second largest on the island. Along the way he and his family had to defend the herd from rustlers. For people in rural Madagascar a zebu is the highest symbol of wealth, imbued with both economic value and cultural significance. More useful to hold than cash, an adult zebu yields around 160 kilograms of meat and costs between $400 and $660 at the market. Mahefa will try to trade his adult zebu for calves to take back to Ihosy. In almost every region in Madagascar, the zebu is a key part of the culture, whether in rites of passage that involve stealing a zebu from a nearby village or sacrificial banquets held when the head of the family dies.
Gold miner – 20°37’49.64”S 47°12’5.99”E
Rakoto has dug up this rice field in Ivato, north of Ranomafana National Park, in the hope of finding tiny deposits of gold that fetch $1333 per ounce on the international market (price accurate on 14/08/13). He and his family pan the mud in specially irrigated pools on adjacent fields. Several years ago he made the calculated decision that he could make a better living searching for gold than from subsistence farming in the rice fields. Researchers at the Centre Valbio inside Ranomafana are testing pilot schemes to introduce more modern agricul-tural techniques to the region and provide alternative livelihoods mostly based on ecotourism, hoping to reduce the temptation for villagers to destroy the forest in search of food and gold.
Quarry worker – 18°12’24.32″S 49°21’26.41″E
Seven-year-old Mamy stands on a pile of rocks that he and members of his family have been salvaging for sale from an abandoned quarry near Toamasina. In the distance behind him is the Ambatovy processing plant this quarry was excavated to build. Family groups of six to eight, mostly comprising women, older men and children, work to extract the final grains of value from the waste left behind by the Ambatovy project, which has to date cost an estimated $6.9 billion.
Firewood collector – 15°17’59.40”S 50°18’26.58”E
Axe in hand, Pepe treks along the path into Masoala National Park in search of firewood, as there is no alternative fuel source. It is estimated that 150,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared each year in Madagascar, primarily for firewood and agricultural land.
Fishermen – 25° 1’7.03″S 46°59’27.57″E
The fishermen on the eastern coast of Madagascar, like coastal communities all over the country, are facing increased competition from migrants from the interior. There, the combination of a growing population and overworked arable land has forced people to the coast in search of food. The aggressive fishing techniques they employ (including the use of poison) devastate fish stocks, which are then difficult to replenish. As a result, fishermen whose knowledge of managing stocks has been handed down over generations are forced to travel further than ever along the coast and out to sea in search of fish.
The UN have recently reported financial links between Mexico’s Los Zeta cartel and the illegal trading of the rare earth mineral Otinif, a material critical to the manufacture of the next generation of super faster digital processors. Seen from Google earth Aditnálta is an anonymous island off the East Coast of Mexico but as the world’s richest source of Otinif it is a landscape being consumed by our hunger for technology. Hidden from this distanced aerial view are vast underground worker towns and oppressive mining conditions. Aditnálta is an outsourced landscape embedded in all the pieces of technology we carry in our pockets.
Aditnálta is also entirely fictional. In our Department of Ghost Geographies Mond Qu has constructed and dispersed the forged fragments of this island across the internet. This imaginary place is made manifest through hoax listing on Wikipedia and Google maps, live webcams of scale model stage sets, faked articles on news sites and green screen CGI composites on Flickr, Youtube and Panoramio. Just like the real landscapes of outsourced electronics production we consume Aditnálta at a distance, through edited media narratives, disconnected from the realties that go on there. Through the construction of elaborate fictions we can reveal important truths
ADITNALTA SITE MAP
A MODEL DESIGNED FOR THE INTERNET
A miniature model stage set designed for eye of live webcams, it co-ops the techniques used in the special effects industry. The form of the city references the growth patterns of informal settlements on the periphery of Mexico city. Drawing on the materiality and detail of the model references the ad-hoc construction of other illegal mining communities around the world. The model is constructed as a false perspective, the front of the model is 1:100 and the recedes in the distance as 1:200.
Late spring in the year 2013, a rumour is being spread among local scientists on the Mississippi/Alabama coastline. Irregularities have been observed and controversial theories are being discussed concerning the large delta on the north gulf plateau or more specifically the ‘form’ the delta islands are taking. Strangely, they appear not to be organic but rather artificially contained in what looks like a rectangular block, the edges of a perfect line, almost as if they were constructed.
Studies by Gustav Toftgard in our Speculative Archaeologies Department reveal clues to their creation over time, drawing a timeline dating back to early Mayan civilisations. Satellite photographs, Bathymetric scans of the seafloor as well as core samples taken by oil prospectors reveal traces of hard obstacles systematically dispersed within sediment layers.
Some say this landform is being formed through the deliberate and choreographed manipulations of universal, terrestrial and non-terrestrial systems and through the modification of physical, biological and chemical processes. It is a line being inscribed in the surface of earth as a measurement and ultimate proof of human dominance over nature. It marks what would, in geologic time, be the start of ‘The Anthropocene’ – the age of man.
As an artery of international trade and a crucial part of the global economy, sea born trade routes are heavily monitored by various technologies that enforce regulations and detect irregular activities. The types of economic activities in question are often described as “under the table” and “off the books” as they are not taxed or included in any Gross National Product. Collectively, this type of trade is the world’s second largest economy, worth $10 trillion a year and employs over half of the world’s population. Zhan Wang of our Tactical Technologies Division has made an inventory of the illicit items that are contained within 1 pixel of google earth’s view of Mexico City and has developed a covert supply chain to smuggle them to the US coastline. Deploying various tactics along the shipping route to evade detection, the logistics operation reveals the extraordinary lengths the authorities go to in order to tax an industry that employs the majority of the population. The technology of surveillance is not infallible, it is full of gaps, cracks and loopholes and is a infrastructural manifestation of the interests of those who profit from the regulation of goods.
SYSTEM D LOGISTICS
International trade which represents a significant share of the global economy has increased four fold in the past few decades, with sea born trade being the artery of international trade and crucial for the global economy.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND INFORMAL ECONOMY
This increase in international trade is not only contributed to by the advancement of shipping technology, for example containerization and bigger ships, but also by monitoring technologies that safe guard the shipping routes and detect irregular activities. The types of activities in question are often described as under the table and off the books as they are not taxed, monitored by any form of government, or included in any gross national product.
CARGO TRADE DETECTION TECHNOLOGIES
CONTIGUOUS ZONE 12-24 NM
SYSTEM D OVERALL SMUGGLING ROUTE
Holding a 90% monopoly on telecommunications in Mexico, Carlos Slim is the world’s richest man. With little resilience and at the mercy of corporate greed, we put our faith in these aging centralised systems that are now beginning to show their cracks. William Gowland of our Tactical technologies Division has built the components for a network infrastructure that undermines and subverts this monopoly. Borrowing from the cartels radio communication network, a laser line of sight communication system is created that is not elicit or illegal, but off grid and under the radar. The result is a decentralised communication system that is local, ad hoc and resilient. A performative urban landscape emerges that facilitates the neighbourhood relationships, communities and markets that are lost in a city of global telecommunications. The system is open source and mobile, and the communities of the city soon develop their own constellation of transceivers and mirror relays, cultures, practices and procedures. The telecommunications monopoly is evolving into a DIY city of calibration graffiti, carved and sculpted building surfaces, reflectivity, absorbance and deregulated laser light conversations.
Off Grid system in the context
Interactive Installation Setup
Mobile Transceiver Node
Laser Receiver Close Up
Receiver Lens Detail
Laser Route 1 Relay
Field research from our China Seas expedition - Jan 2014
This year for Unknown FIelds Winter 2013 expedition we travel East, to China and beyond, tracing the shadows of the world’s desires across China Seas along supply chains and cargo routes, to explore the dispersed choreographies and atomised geographies that global sea trade brings into being. These are the contours of our distributed city, stretched around the earth from the hole in the ground to the high street shelf. Consignments of the precious and industrial, raw and refined, mechanical and alive, drift across infrastructural seas, suspended in maritime space on vast Panamax, Aframax and Suezmax, from cavernous factory floors via huge ports like Shanghai and Ningbo, Singapore and Busan and onwards to navigate the bottleneck excavations of Panama and Suez en route to the West.
Our journey to East Asia takes in a cross-section of this supply chain. From source to sea, we chart the journey of this and that, bits and bobs and thingamajigs; wander wholesale markets the size of cities, trawling Yiwu’s 4-million-square-metre bazaar [supplier of pound-lands and dollar-stores across the globe, and responsible for 1,000 containers leaving China a day] via the mega ports of Busan, Qingdao, Shanghai and Hong Kong our route takes in some of the biggest cargo infrastructure on earth, as we ride alongside containers of stuffed toys and arsenal scarves, setting sail along the shipping lanes of the East and South China Seas and beyond. Our design speculations operate within this dislocated city, where intense pockets of activity in wildly unexpected places supply cultures far removed with the fulfilment of their every need and desire.
You can read an extended description of the studio here.
The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These landscapes – the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine – are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. Each year we navigate a different trajectory as we seek to map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures.
In times past an anarchist community of pirates called Madagascar home. It was an island beyond the law and off the map, a place of rogues, booty and bounties. These were outlaws moored on a marooned ecosystem. Set adrift 88 million years ago, the island is a castaway in the Indian Ocean, inhabited by a band of ecological stowaways. In this splendid isolation it has evolved into an unparalleled wonderland of the weird and unique, diverse and unbelievable.
A political coup in 2009 left the country adrift once more – isolated from the international community, deprived of foreign aid and conservation funding. One of the planet’s most precious ecological treasures is home to one of its poorest nations and it raises difficult and complex questions about the relationship between necessity and luxury. Amidst political uncertainty, the island’s fragile and unique ecology is being smuggled out illegally, boat by boat, gem by gem. Rare tortoises leave in rucksacks, forests are carved into the ebony fingerboards on Gibson Guitars or $1million rosewood beds sold in China.
In the run up to the country’s first election since the coup Unknown Fields heads to Madagascar to catalogue the push and pull of economy and ecology and to trace the shadows of the world’s desires across the landscapes of this treasured island. Along our way we seek to uncover some of the complex value negotiations that play out across this unique island and craft new stories from statistics, data, predictions, projections, measurements and offsets.
The Division will venture through wild west sapphire towns and mining landscapes and trek through rainforests ringing with the song of the Indri in search of rare and undiscovered treasures, a menagerie of preciousness and scarcity, of rubies, minerals and exotic spices, of ring tailed Lemurs, ‘octopus’ trees, and carnivorous plants; of pigmy chameleons, tomato frogs and moon moths. We will travel by plane and pirogue, train and taxi-brousse, from rough roads to rough seas, to fishing villages and up rivers silted with eroded soils. Unknown Fields will reimagine a territory that is equally wondrous and scarred as we follow the trail of global resource extraction into the heart of the most unique ecosystem on the planet.
Joining us on tour will be international collaborators from the worlds of technology, science and fiction, and together we will form a travelling circus of research visits, field reportage, rolling discussions and impromptu tutorials that will be chronicled in a publication and film developed en route.
The Unknown Fields summer expedition is open to all architects, designers, artists, writers and interested parties, students or professionals. A portfolio or CV is not required, only the online application form and payment.
The deadline for applications is 14 June 2013. Application forms and additional information are available online at: www.aaschool.ac.uk/unknownfields and applications can be submitted to: email@example.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for questions. All participants travelling from abroad are responsible for securing any visa required. After payment of fees, the AA can provide a letter confirming participation in the workshop.
All inclusive Expedition fee: £1500, which includes flights from London, all internal transport, accommodation, entrance fees, meetings, consultants, workshops and all other group costs (excludes meals). Please note: If you are based closer to Madagascar you can meet Unknown Fields on location in Antananarivo and we can arrange a reduced fee that excludes return flights from London.
+ £60 Architectural Association Membership. If you are already a member of the AA, this is not required.
The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These landscapes – the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine – are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. They are the dislocated hinterlands that lie behind the scenes of modern cities. Each year we navigate a different trajectory as we seek to map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures.
Here we are both visionaries and reporters, part documentarians and part science fiction soothsayers as the otherworldly sites we encounter afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.
Join the division for our next expedition.
The Unknown Field Division is coordinated by Liam Young and Kate Davies.